Our trip to Cape Town began in glorious sunshine, I was accompanied by Lee & Richard Sudan, friends from Henley Open Water Swimming Club, and Claire Tidy. We were looking forward to training in the sea, but the sea was huge, churned up and unfriendly. We found the most wonderful 50m lido, with views of the sea and not chlorinated - Sea Point. Which is where we trained for the fist few days.
Lee & I had a 3-day swim camp with the legendary Derrick Frazer, at Lanagebaan Lagoon. We were all staying aboard a houseboat moored in the lagoon. Both Lee & I completed our qualification swims, Lee had her 6 hour EC Solo qualifier and I had my little 2 hour North Channel one. It was a beautiful location, and we were swimming with SA elete swimmers, including the SA 10k Olympic champion, who incidentally for those interested swims 5k an hour!
We fine tuned our feed mix, swapped swimming stories with everyone. Met a wonderful mix of people, including Leigh de Necker, a marine biologist from Cape Town, who is a shark expert.
We were surprised to hear from Leigh that the Great White population has been decimated in recent years, mainly due to a pair of Orcas named Port & Starboard (because their dorsal fins bend, one to port & one to starboard), who have developed an eating habit out of necessity, and lack of other food for shark liver. They are eating just the livers of the Great whites. This means that the Apex preditor has been almost removed from the system, therefore the seal population has sky rocketed & there is now a battle for fish from both seals and humans. There are still sharks, and in fact a surfer was eaten by a great white only a couple of weeks before we were there. The knock on effect of our over fishing has directly caused this imbalance and the death of many sharks.
We were gradually running out of time for our Robben Island swim, so on Wednesday 6th April we were all go, even though the weather was bad, it looked like the best day to swim, although the temperature was too low to swim in skins (just costume) we were told we had to wear wetsuits, which neither of us have done for years. We were up early at 4am, to get to the dock, where we were met by Derrick Frazer, and his crew. While we were loading onto the rib we met the South African RNLI who were about to launch to help a whale in distress - it was entangled with fishing nets. Yet another example of the effect we as humans are having on our eco system, and oceans. We agreed to also look out for the whale, so they could locate it quickly in order to help it. The weather looked ok at this point, although it was very rough, and the swell was big we crashed our way over to Robben Island, seeing 5 whales on the way. THE most amazing experience, I have never seen a whale! We did locate the injured whale, and the RNLI came and untangled it.
When we arrived at Robben Island, very pleased to have remembered to take anti-seasickness pills, we jumped off the boat, and swam through the kelp to the shore. Terrified from the very start, we began our swim back through the kelp, in the freezing water of between 9 - 12 degrees, choppy, and big swell. The whole swim was a battle, from start to finish. I felt sick the whole way it was so bouncy, and failed to take enough feed onboard during our feeds every 30 mins, so that my energy was being zapped continually with no reserves. At the 3/4 mark both Lee & I were struggling mentally when suddenly a black shape came up from the depths, initially I thought "this is it, this is how sharks attack from below, with no warning" when a seal zoomed up, blew bubbles in our faces, and played with us for the next 20 mins. He must have known that we needed help, and kept us going.
Eventually, after what seemed like hours, watching massive dark shadows beneath, swallowing gallons of salty water, and being chucked around by the chop - we were spat out by the breakers onto the beach breaking my toe in the process.
The toughest swim I have ever done, and I wouldn't like to repeat it soon, although I would like to do it again without the wetsuit, and in nicer conditions.
Derrick Frazer messaged us after the swim congratulating us on completing it, saying the conditions were very tough, and he was impressed we finished it!
What an experience, and not expecting to see first hand the problems we humans have caused drove us through the chop, along with Sammy the Seal! Please donate to our 2022 charity Surfers Against Sewages, we need to support ecological charities in their fight to clean up our waterways and protect our wildlife.